We’ve learned quite a bit about what you can get away with in the mainstream Australian media in the past few days. Let’s just recap: 24 hours after News Limited chief John Hartigan commandeers space in The Australian to continue his campaign that media self-regulation trumps privacy legislation, the main News Limited papers pass the hat round (between staff cuts and redundancy offers) to raise $15,000 for 30-year-old, near-nude photos of someone said to be a teenage Pauline Hanson.
If we are to take Ms Hanson’s word for it, the pictures were not of her. If we are to take to word of the man who sold them, he doesn’t know. If we are to take the word of the Daily Telegraph’s editor they definitely were Pauline Hanson because they hadn’t been digitally retouched and he looked. If we are to take the word of the Daily Telegraph’s deputy editor none of this matters because people went and bought the newspapers and that after all is an ultimate test of the public interest.
Which is of course the thing. We might have developed myriad new means of communication meantime, but nothing has changed in the corporate culture of News Limited since Rupert Murdoch traded daddy’s interest in the Adelaide News, picked up the Daily Mirror and refined the art of tabloid journalism as we know it. In short, you can never underestimate the intelligence of you readership, nor its appetite for prurience and sensation. It seems that now (and this too is hardly new) it doesn’t even matter whether what you publish has any basis in fact, even (especially?) if it applies to public figures engaged in the democratic process. They must, one assumes, be asking for it.
Is it any wonder that people view the media with a mixture of distrust and contempt? To act this way in a time of booming sales and an eager captive audience might be good business. To do so in a time of multiple credible alternatives to the manipulated drivel that passes for the Daily Telegraph and its like, would seem to be inviting legislative sanction at the very least.